When you’re pregnant, especially for the first time, it’s easy to start questioning the safety of just about everything you would normally do. You’re growing a precious new life inside of you, and it’s normal to stress over whether or not you’re taking part in an activity that could be potentially harmful to them (or yourself). Even something as innocent as gardening while pregnant can start to seem like a possible safety hazard for your unborn baby if you fall down an internet search rabbit hole. If you're nervous about the safety of doing yard work during pregnancy and the potential risk of toxoplasmosis, you should feel empowered to ask your health care provider for specific guidance at any time. But, in the meantime, here's what the experts want every pregnant person to know about gardening while pregnant.
Is it safe to garden while pregnant?
As long as you’re comfortable getting down on your hands and knees to pull weeds, dig holes, and water your plant babies, then you can absolutely keep gardening through your pregnancy. In fact, gardening while pregnant can be a great way to keep your body moving. “The bottom line is you can garden all day, if you’re up for it,” Dr. Anna Cabeca, a triple board-certified OB-GYN and author, assures us.
While Cabeca insists that gardening while pregnant is perfectly safe for most people, she does recommend wearing gloves and washing your hands frequently. “Soil can contain parasites like salmonella or listeria, so you just need to be aware and mindful,” she says. Basically, gardening comes with the same amount of risk to a pregnant person as eating some of your favorite foods. Safety makes a difference, so just be sure to keep your hands clean — good advice for anyone, anytime.
Can you get toxoplasmosis from gardening?
Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a common parasite that is especially dangerous for pregnant women or anyone with compromised immune systems. The biggest risk comes from eating undercooked meat or shellfish, but the parasite can also be accidentally ingested if you come into contact with cat feces — for example, by cleaning your cat’s litter box, unknowingly come into contact with the parasite, and not washing your hands.
Because toxoplasmosis can be contracted through cat feces, it is a risk to keep in mind if you’re hoping to garden while pregnant. If cats are going to the bathroom in or around your garden, there’s always the possibility of unknowingly touching the feces and coming into contact with the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis. “There is no question that gardening increases the risk of exposure to toxoplasmosis,” Cabeca says. “That being said, it’s important to self-nurture, especially while pregnant, so if gardening is ‘your thing,’ then you can do so. I recommend you wear gloves, wear a mask, and certainly make sure to wash your hands thoroughly. And don’t touch your face, mouth, or eyes before having done so.”
You can pass toxoplasmosis to your baby when pregnant, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Even if you do not have any symptoms from the infection, babies can develop serious symptoms later in life. This can include blindness, mental disability, or serious eye or brain damage at birth. But don’t pack away those seed packets just yet. If you take the precautions that Cabeca recommends, you should still be able to garden safely.
Can I pull weeds while pregnant?
Pulling weeds is a big part of gardening, and Dr. Cabeca says that doing so with your gloved hands is perfectly fine. That said, you should avoid certain pesticides that might be found in weed killers. Exposure to pesticides could increase your chances of having a miscarriage, a baby with birth defects, or other issues, and some can even pass into breast milk.
To avoid exposure to pesticides while pregnant, the CDC recommends that pregnant women avoid directly applying pesticides in the garden. If you’re going to use them in your yard, ask someone else to do it. If you know that pesticides are used in your yard, you should always be sure to wear gloves and protective clothing while gardening so that they don’t get on your hands. And if pesticides were applied to your lawn or gardening area very recently, you should avoid the area for as long as the pesticide label tells you to wait.
Most weeds out there are harmless to pull when pregnant. However, if you see a plant or weed you’re totally unfamiliar with and you’re concerned, make sure to identify what it is before touching it.
What if I get poison ivy while pregnant?
Although getting poison ivy might be pretty uncomfortable, it’s not a huge deal to get it while pregnant. If you notice the tell-tale rash — typically red with itchy bumps — you should contact your health care provider to get advice on exactly what you can take to treat the rash.
“As a rule, taking medication while you’re pregnant can be tricky and needs to be done carefully and with the input of your OB-GYN,” Dr. Cabeca says. “That being said, there are a lot of natural home remedies to treat poison ivy that are totally safe.” Dr. Cabeca recommends applying cold compresses to the infected areas for an immediate feeling of relief from the itching.
Seek immediate care if you experience a rash that is accompanied by any of the following:
- Difficultly breathing or swallowing
- A rash around your eyes, mouth, or genitals
- Swelling on your face
- Itching that makes it impossible to sleep
- Rashes on most of your body
- A fever
With all of these caveats in mind, at the end of the day, you should feel free to garden while pregnant. Not only can it be a good way to keep your body moving, many people find it to be relaxing and stress-reducing. Just be sure to wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly, and you and baby should be just fine.
Dr. Anna Cabeca, triple board-certified OB-GYN and author